Akbar Nawas: I’m humbled by stint in India
Seven-hour bus rides on narrow roads and Chennai players' hunger leave impact on Singaporean coach
The Covid-19 pandemic might have prompted Akbar Nawas to leave Chennai City, but the 44-year-old Singaporean coach believes he has learnt much from his stint in India.
Last week, Akbar parted ways with the club, whom he led to the I-League title in 2018/19, by mutual consent ahead of the upcoming season, with owner Rohit Ramesh saying he hoped the tactician would return in the future.
The former Tampines Rovers and Global Cebu coach told The New Paper: "I have been coaching abroad since 2017 and like many people living overseas, Covid-19 was tough, especially since I struggled to come back from India due to travel restrictions.
"So I think it was a good time to come home and recharge before I take on my next coaching challenge...
"I had a fantastic time there. Normally, when you part ways with a club, the owner won't say that he'd want you to come back in the future."
Reflecting on his March 2018-October 2020 stint at Chennai City, Akbar said it made him a better coach and a more humble person.
He explained: "After finishing second with Tampines (2016) and Global Cebu (2017)... winning the I-League is something I'll never forget... I think it is the highlight of my career...
"I've improved in leaps and bounds - the uncertainty in terms of the environment and the unpredictability and competitiveness of the league. I'm up against a couple of EPL (English Premier League) coaches and renowned coaches from Spain in the (Indian) Super Cup...
"So, as a coach, I really developed tactically when I was in India," he added, noting that he has locked horns with former Hull City manager Phil Brown and ex-Barcelona assistant coach Sergio Lobera.
Describing how his Indian sojourn impacted him on a personal level, Akbar said: "It has made me more down to earth because in India, off the pitch you see so many things that we Singaporeans take for granted, be it the players or whatever you see when you walk around, in terms of the environment...
"For example, (when) travelling from Tampines Stadium to Jurong East Stadium for a game, sometimes I used to complain and say, 'Wah so far'.
"But in India, we have to sometimes take seven-hour bus rides on roads that are so narrow.
"To go to Kashmir and Chandigarh and then come back to the south with so many differences in weather, it's a humbling experience.
"When you see how the players yearn for success to make sure they can lead a better life through football, it also made me realise that if some players (here) see that, they would think how lucky they are to be in Singapore.
"Sometimes, in Singapore we complain about the fields, not getting this and that, but in India, in certain places you can't get the facilities that you want and you have to accept it."
Akbar urged Singaporean coaches to join the growing legion of tacticians plying their trade abroad, including Aidil Sharin (Kedah), V. Sundram Moorthy (Laos), P.N. Sivaji (Brunei technical director) and Vincent Subramaniam (Bhutan technical director).
He said there are opportunities overseas but noted that coaches need to be resourceful and brave to secure them.
Akbar recounted that to secure his stints in the Philippines and India, he paid for his own flights and accommodation to attend the interviews.
Having returned to Singapore in May, the 44-year-old is biding his time ahead of his next coaching expedition. He said his agent is fielding offers from South-east Asian clubs.
For now though, Akbar is spending his time away from the touchline honing his management and cooking skills.
Having "perfected" his biryani recipe during his time in India, the self-avowed cooking enthusiast sells tahu telur and tahu begedil on Sundays, taking orders via Instagram.
He is also pursuing a Specialist Diploma in Applied Drama & Psychology at Singapore Polytechnic.
Said Akbar: "Applied drama is all about using role-play to solve problems, which is very much in line with the dynamics of handling a team. And understanding psychology is always useful.
"The modules I am learning are quite diverse, you're learning so many things that can help in football management."